A new survey commissioned by Sue Ryder has uncovered that over half of bereaved people (51%) living in the East of England experience poor mental health – such as feelings of depression or anxiety – following the death of a loved one.
When questioned on which mental health condition(s) they felt was triggered by their grief, three quarters (75%) stated that they have experienced feelings of depression and over two thirds (67%) said that they had felt anxious after experiencing a bereavement.
Drilling down into why bereavement causes feelings of poor mental health, Sue Ryder found that almost two fifths (39%) of the respondents felt they were unable to open up about their grief to those around them – despite ‘being able to talk freely’ being listed by those surveyed as the number one action that would be most likely to help them following the death of a loved one.
When the charity asked members of the public, 51% admitted that they would be scared of saying the wrong thing and only 48% of people said that they would know what kind of help or support to offer someone who was bereaved.
Over a third of people living in the East of England who had experienced a bereavement (38%) said that their friends and family stopped asking how they were feeling after just three weeks of being bereaved; yet close to two thirds (64%) stated that society’s assumption that there was an end to the grieving period was simply untrue.
Sue Ryder has launched its #JustSaySomething campaign, calling for people who have experienced a bereavement to:
- Open up and #JustSaySomething – whether it be a family member, partner, friend or even colleague, let those close to you know if you are feeling low by simply saying ‘I’m struggling today’ or ‘This week has been a tough one’.
- Notice what lifts your mood and share that with your support network – this could be a certain activity or even sharing memories of the person who has died.
- Remember that there is no timeframe attached to grieving and everyone’s experience of grief is unique.
- Ask for help and speak to your GP if you are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety – these could manifest in you struggling to focus, having a lack of energy, isolating yourself, losing interest in things you used to love and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking.
- Visit sueryder.org/copingwithgrief for a range of tips and resources to help support you and visit the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Forum to access peer to peer support from those going through similar experiences to yours.
Sue Ryder’s #JustSaySomething campaign is calling for people supporting somebody through bereavement to:
- #JustSaySomething and be ready to listen – ‘Being able to talk freely’ was cited by those surveyed as the number one action that would be most likely to help them. A simple ‘How are you feeling?’ can be enough to start the conversation.
- Take your lead from them – check in with them often and let them lead you as to how you can help.
- Watch out for symptoms of depression or anxiety – these could include struggling to focus, a lack of energy, isolating themselves, losing interest in things they used to love, and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking. If you feel concerned, encourage them to go and speak to their GP.
- Remember there is no timeframe attached to grieving and checking in with them a year or two after a death can be just as important as in the first few weeks.
- Visit sueryder.org/copingwithgrief to find further advice and resources to help you to provide the best support.
Supporting the Sue Ryder #JustSaySomething campaign is social media influencer Lottie Tomlinson and TV presenter and stylist Grace Woodward who have opened up about their personal grieving processes. In a video to support Sue Ryder’s campaign, they talk about the effect bereavement had on their mental health, their support systems and whether they believe there can be an end to grieving.
Lottie Tomlinson, social media influencer, who is supporting the Sue Ryder campaign after losing her mother and sister, said: “I wanted to do this campaign because I want to try to educate people on how they can help someone who is grieving.
“There are so many people who don’t know what to say or how to act. One of the hardest parts for me was people not bringing them up. When you’ve lost someone, you can feel like they are fading away because people aren’t talking about them.
“I definitely developed some anxiety after losing mum, because it’s the scariest thing to lose a parent, especially when you’re so young – and that happened to me. I try and be as strong as I can and put on a brave face, but it is okay to not be okay.”
Helen Daniels’ mum Elizabeth was taken seriously ill on Christmas Day 2018 and died a few weeks later on January 16, 2019. Helen’s family was supported by Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice Palliative Care Hub in Bedfordshire during Elizabeth’s illness.
Helen, 39, said: ‘The first six months after mum’s death were a bit of a blur and I think it actually got harder after that. Everyone is different but as a society I think we need to be more aware of how people are feeling and be prepared to talk about things more openly.”
“I think perhaps people don’t understand how to talk to someone who has been bereaved until it happens to them, or they are so scared of saying the wrong thing they don’t say anything at all.’
Emma Rayner’s Mum received end of life care at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough. She said, ‘I decided that I needed to look after myself and talk through the emotions of losing Mum on a regular basis. I was fortunate to be offered help from the hospice’s bereavement support group, which I attended every two weeks for almost a year.
“The love and support offered in this space has been absolutely invaluable in my healing journey. On the hard days, when I sometimes questioned if I could cope and carry on, knowing that I had that truly unique and special space in which to share my grief with others who completely understood really kept me going.
‘So much of my recovery, was down in large parts, to the work I did with my Bereavement Supporter, and that work encouraged and inspired me to want to help and support others. I completed my training last year and am now a Bereavement Supporter myself; helping and supporting others after that heart-breaking and unimaginable loss of someone they love. It is an amazing feeling, knowing that my own pain and heartbreak is now being used to help and support others at the time they need it most.’
Allison Mann, Hospice Director at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice and Interim Hospice Director at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice, said: “Each of us at some point will most likely experience bereavement or want to support somebody else who is.
“Sue Ryder’s research shows that for many people, bereavement can be a trigger for feelings of depression and anxiety but it also points at some simple ways in which we can better support ourselves and each other.
“We seem to have found ourselves in a perfect storm. People who have experienced a bereavement want to open up yet don’t feel like they can; and those wanting to support those coping with grief are too afraid to say the wrong thing. This leaves us with a damaging silence.
“Whether you are somebody who is grieving and doesn’t know how to ask for help or if you are a partner, friend or colleague of somebody you think may be struggling with their grief, Sue Ryder hopes that our #JustSaySomething campaign can provide people with the confidence to begin those conversations.”
Ken Blanton, Specialist Counsellor at Sue Ryder, said: “This survey clearly illustrates how deeply felt a sense of loss can be and also how difficult it is to share those feelings. Very intense emotions are a normal part of the grieving process. They can last a long time, but sometimes people may need professional bereavement support.
“Signs that a bereaved person might need extra help can include: struggling to focus or concentrate, lack of energy, staying in their room, feelings of depression or anxiety, panic attacks, losing interest in things they used to love, and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking.
“If any of these symptoms are apparent and do not improve within a few weeks, then seek advice and support from a GP. They will be able to recommend the right support, which could include counselling, group therapy or medication.”
Visit sueryder.org/copingwithgrief for bereavement resources providing practical and emotional advice for both parties to help encourage conversations about grief.